Saturday, July 08, 2006


June 10, 2006


Hi everyone, I ended up staying in Bawku town for the weekend and now it's raining Yay!!! The third time this week!!! so we can't leave the internet cafe... perfect time for me to catch up on some blogging and reporting!! Becky, the program officer working on Domestic Violence and Civil Rights at ZOVFA came so we could get our hair braided together in town. First we had to buy hair and then we ran into the Madam who braids so luckily she had time for us. Now I have a lot more hair on my head so my neck has to get used to it, my ponytail won't even fit into one hand!! I ended up staying at Becky's place last night as she lives in town and wanted to watch the world cup match between Trinidad Tobego and Sweden and then Ivory Coast and Argentina.It was hard to know who to cheer today we stayed in for a while and then came out to the cafe.

I've been meaning to write a follow up on the Oxfam situation and then also include another story concerning MYAP the Multi Year Approach Progam.

The MYAP program is another interesting story is large NGOs following their own agenda without much consultation at the ground level. ZOVFA submitted an annual budget and action plan to MYAP almost 6 months ago detailing the activities they would carry out and have yet to receive feedback or funding. Yet MYAP has been visiting the communities that ZOVFA works with, without their knowledge, and implementing some of the things on their plan. The greatest uproar was caused when MYAP wanted to introduce a trial of hybrid maize on one hectare of a farmer's land.
Hybrid seeds contain a terminator gene which does not allow the plant to produce seed for the next year meaning that the farmer always has to buy the seed from the company.

They said they would supply all the fertilizer, pesticide and seed that the farmer would need for the first year to do this trial hoping that when the other farmers saw the higher yield they would want to follow suite. ZOVFA, being an organization
opposed to the use of agro-chemicals, was opposed to these trials and said they would not support them in the communities. This is the classic story of how GMOs and hybrids were advertised in the 1970s which is what makes this story even worse. Large companies would supply everything for the first year for free. The farmer would get a higher yield that year but the following year they would have to buy all the input- seeds, chemicals etc- to grow their crops. Fertilized crops deplete the soil so every year the farmer would need to buy more and more chemicals to have the same yield. After a few years, if they could not afford to buy all the chemicals and such the land is so depleted that the farmer cannot switch back to traditional farming means. The farmer is then dependent on chemicals or has to go through a long process of returning the nutrients lost to the soil. This is a very brief explanation of the complex issue of agro-business and how the world market has monopolized the farming resources of the world but as you can see it is a serious issue. Worse yet is that MYAP wanted ZOVFA to select communities for them to initiate this hybrid maize trial
without actually consulting with them or the communities. If you can imagine being a farmer struggling to make ends meet someone willing to give you even a year's worth of seed seems like a good idea. Within ZOVFA we are trying to make a song telling people about the danger of using hybrid and GMO crops. The song can be preformed at community meetings by Jango singers to get the word out so that farmers can make informed choices

Anyway, so on May 25th Philip and ZOVFA called a big meeting between Oxfam, ZOVFA and all the suppliers concerned. This included ISP (the supplier of the carts and ploughs), ITFC (the supplier for the organic mango initiative including the large Polytanks), New Energy (who were responsible for digging wells), one of the project officers for Oxfam, the ZOVFA staff and respresentative from each of the four communities. It was quite an interesting meeting to say the least as each partner had a different story of what was happening. The Oxfam director seemed at least to be very responsive to the concerns being raised and admitted making some mistakes. Unfortunately for ZOVFA Bernard Azure, our program officer for the Oxfam ILP Integrated Livelihoods Program was not at the meeting.

Concerning the price lists for all the materials, they had been emailed to Bernard (Ben) whose email account had gone inactive because he had not used it. Therefore all the info emailed had not been received by ZOVFA. A total price list and inventory list had not been sent out though which is something that ZOVFA was requesting. They also wanted to know what the supplies were being used for and how they should be distributed because often supplies would come without any instructions on who was going to pay for them, either the farmers or Oxfam. Now they are going to be emailed to both Ben and Philip so at least someone will get them. I also went with Ben to set up a new email account but I'm not sure if Oxfam has that account yet. As far as the supplies were concerned it was great to see the farmers sticking up for themselves and showing the supplier what was wrong and what they wanted. The ISP supplier didn't admit to anything and said (as expected) that all the supplies were fine but at least Oxfam saw some of the problems. It also came to light that alot of the transportation issues were because of the supplier so it was the first time that Oxfam was hearing the complaints.

All in all the ISP guy looked very bad because he was the cause of some of the worst problems. Because things were contracted out the way they were it allowed for a situation like this to materialize where the way things are supposed to work rarely happens. Just a couple days after the meeting even Philip got a call in the evening that they were going to receive 985 bags of poultry manure for the mango trees!!! 985 bags!! ZOVFA had no where to put them plus you can't unload things in the village after dark because there are no lights and the roads aren't made for trucks! They had to scramble to find people and agreed with the truck driver for the material to be delivered early the next morning but all in all another small daily disaster.

There are so many more things to look at here like the unrealistic expectations of record keeping to qualify for organic certification and the well diggers wanting to dig wells in the rainy season when there is a danger they will collapse. There was also a miscommunication about the the West they use one sided ploughs and call them ploughs in the East they use two sided ploughs that the supplier called
ridgers. Oxfam just ordered ploughs and delivered the same ones to everyone creating frustration among the farmers because in the end they are going to have to pay for things. As far as the rejected supplies, ZOVFA has still not received any replacements and Oxfam has said there is no more money in this year's budget to buy more. Oxfam had already paid for the supplies ZOVFA rejected so now they are sitting in storage somewhere and I don't think Oxfam is pressuring ISP to take them back. Meanwhile, Oxfam is going ahead with the program without the supplies that they assessed would be necessary for the success of the project!!

I'm not sure if these things are all that interesting individually but how they were dealt with was really good. People anywhere are generally afraid to hold meeting where all the interested parties are present because the issues that come out might become tense. But is it not better to have everything out in the open and talk about it openly assuming that people are going to behave well. Using this approach you also avoid a lot of misunderstanding that can happen when you have meeting only between a select group. When everyone is present you reduce the risk of people making assumptions about your character and your opinions. As of now, June 17th,the situation has moved forward slightly althout none of the inputs have been resupplied. Five wells have been dug in one community for the mango plantation and Oxfam has given some more info about the prices of each item - an area of contention as I mentioned before. Recently, I assisted in writing a letter to Oxfam's national office detailing our concerns and requesting that they provide us with more frequent communication and that they revise their price list which was generally about 40% above market prices. So we'll see what happens with that and how far it goes... I think the most important lesson here is that communication between partners is essential.

For me, it's really strengthened my resolve to be open and honest with what I'm doing and make a genuine effort to think about the messages I'm sending day to day. Poor communication can so easily degenerate relationship and create situations that then need to be dealt with. My conclusion before was that greater trust needs to be invested into the local NGO for them to be able to carry out their activities more effectively and independantly. Now, I also see that this trust can never be built without serious efforts to keep communication lines open even when you may feel that they are redundant. Somewhere along the line someone will appreciate it.

July 8th

Wow, I've been here for 2 months, it seems like no time at all, there is still so much I want to learn and understand. I currently at the EWB summer retreat in Tamale...hence the catching up on emails. The connection was down in Bawku for a while and the mouse on the work computer I use was broken...leaving me rather computerless. Today for the retreat we went South to Kintampo falls, which involved a rather long 2hr tro tro ride each way. The falls were beautiful, we went swimming and walked up the falls as they went from plateau to plateau. We eventually got to the top where there was this cross mounted on a platform looking out over the whole fall. It felt absolutely wonderful to swim, something I never thought I'd do in Ghana. All that water around me made me sort of giddy!!!

So a follow-up to my follow-up about Oxfam...part of what I've been doing is assisting in writing letters to partners of my NGO such as Oxfam detailing ZOVFA's concerns about their operations. We did a market survey to demonstrate that their prices were too high etc. We've currently written 3 letters which we sent to the director for final approval. The letter for Oxfam was emailed out last Thursday and Bernard, the program officer for the ILP got a call that same day from a very worried Oxfam employee. They are in a really bad spot right now as their funding year has ended and their money is gone but realistically they did get themselves in to this situation. There was a lot of cheering when it was announced that Oxfam had received the letters and seemed small victory for the team. We now have a bargaining chip to force them to take action and get us our supplies or either reply difinitively that they are not coming. MYAP has yet to respond to the letter they received officially.


At 1:05 p.m., Anonymous Phyllis said...

Hi Samina
So frustrating to see the worldwide effort to patent food crops. With seeming generosity to the farmers involved. Sterile seed is such a stupid concept, but wherever there is money to be made, there are greedy business people (I almost said men!)taking advantage. It gets discouraging to see how far they will go - Kudos to you all for your efforts in pointing out the "error" of their ways.
P.S. The swim & waterfalls sounded heaven-sent!

At 7:33 p.m., Anonymous Mom said...

Hi Samina: Now that you have seen how it works up close, the groups doling out this aid could sure use you expertise and experience to guide them in a more common sense approach to solving local problems. Greed has a way of coloring so much of what is required to give a helping hand to self-sufficiency. I'm so glad you had the time at the waterfall. After all your hauling water for every drop you used, it must have been really exhillerating to have and be in so much water. You are so right when you said communication is the big issue, not only for the multinational, but for each other too. Lots of love


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